How to Sell a Book

The long and winding road to making it happen

Paul Greenberg

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Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

I’ve been making my living as a writer for more than twenty years now. During that time I’ve sold six very different books to three pretty different publishers. Along the way, I’ve advised a fair number of young and not-so-young authors on getting into print. It’d be nice if I could sell a whole book about how you transform a sad, unpublished manuscript into a cool, glossy-jacketed tome that sits proudly on the front table of your favorite bookstore. But I’m not going to do that. It wouldn’t be worth the effort. The process is too specifically driven by the particular nature of the author and the book in question to make a manual feasible.

That said, there are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years that I thought might be worth sharing with those of you just starting out. I’m sure there are plenty of other lessons out there that I haven’t learned yet. But here are my tried and true few.

  1. No one wants your book . . . yet. The moment the idea for a book comes to the new author is very special. All at once you feel infused by the power of what you might say. You see that perfect scene that will drive the book to the heart of your one-day reader. You feel the weight of your own words. Unfortunately or fortunately, this is an entirely subjective experience. No one else shares your passion for your material . . . yet. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is for the next years (and, yes, it will be years) to transform your words into an ongoing argument for the existence of your book. Sometimes you will have to be crafty. Sometimes you will have to be annoying. But the fact that the book exists in your mind is not reason enough for someone to buy it. You must try to attach your book to the emotions, desires, and wills of others.
  2. Use, don’t abuse, your early readers. If you are lucky, you have several intelligent friends or family members who are willing to read an early draft of your book. It may seem like you have dozens of people like this. You don’t. You have, at most, three or four. These people are invaluable. They will selflessly agree to read something that isn’t quite there yet (and, no, it won’t be there yet after you’ve finished only a single draft). These precious three or four people are the bridge between your self-involved…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org